The Will To Kill
eBook - ePub

The Will To Kill

Making Sense of Senseless Murder

James Alan Fox, Jack Levin, Kenna Quinet

Share book
384 pages
ePUB (mobile friendly)
Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

The Will To Kill

Making Sense of Senseless Murder

James Alan Fox, Jack Levin, Kenna Quinet

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents

About This Book

"Written in an engaging manner that challenges critical thinking throughout, the text is very readable and balances providing facts grounded in research with case examples."
—Minna Cirino, Shenandoah University Now with SAGE Publishing, The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder explores extraordinary and seemingly inexplicable cases of homicide—not to sensationalize them—but to educate students about these crimes. Authored by renowned experts, the Fifth Edition places recent crimes in context by reviewing current homicide laws, introducing the latest theories that seek to explain murder, and presenting up-to-date statistical data that identify homicide patterns and trends. Students develop a foundational understanding of a variety of topics, for example, domestic and workplace homicide, cult and hate killings, murders committed by juveniles, and serial slayings. Students also examine various criminal justice responses to homicide, including the strategies and tactics employed to apprehend, prosecute, and punish killers. New to the Fifth Edition

  • Up-to-date research and data offers students the latest statistics on homicide patterns and trends in recent years.
  • New illustrative cases cover various forms of homicide, focusing on crimes that drew significant interest from the public and policymakers alike and provide students with unique insights into violent behavior.
  • Updated coverage of recent controversies, legislative changes, and Supreme Court decisions includes heightened concern over mass shootings, hate-motivated homicide and terrorism; new laws, shifting policies, and Supreme Court rulings pertaining to gun rights, juvenile offenders and the death penalty; and advances in surveillance technology, computer-aided investigation, and DNA forensic testing.
  • Early introduction of theories helps students to understand the definition of homicide/homicide laws before developing a theoretical framework to explain violence.

Instructors: Sign in at for access to curated content contributed by the text's authors, including links to articles and opinion pieces written by the authors.

Frequently asked questions
How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is The Will To Kill an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access The Will To Kill by James Alan Fox, Jack Levin, Kenna Quinet in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Ciencias sociales & CriminologĂ­a. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.



Chapter One The Lure and the Law of Homicide

Homicide intrigues virtually all of us. From the sensational and historic double-murder trial of ex-football star O. J. Simpson to the travails of the elusive yet fictional Hannibal Lecter of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, we are drawn irresistibly to the drama, mystery, intrigue, and power of murder and murderers, both real and invented.
It would hardly be an overstatement to suggest that within popular culture, murder has become profitable. True crime books exploded in popularity in the late 1980s, detailing the crimes and lives of serial killers, mass murders, killer cults, killer kids, and crimes involving celebrities. Entire television channels devoted to crime stories, and mostly tales of murder and mayhem, now exist. People magazine, a yardstick for America’s enchantments, frequently places killers on its front cover. Films, books, trading cards, action figures, even artwork, center on murders and murderers, creating a cottage industry in murderabilia.
Although U.S. homicide rates are relatively low compared to previous decades and nowhere near those of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the media focus on homicide can distort our perceptions of the actual risk. A focus on the facts and the science of homicide studies will guide our journey.

Fascination with Murder

What is it about homicide that captures our attention? Or perhaps a more fitting question is, what is it about us that explains our captivation? And what kinds of killings are especially appealing to the general public, which seems to have an insatiable appetite for true crime books and films? It is our obsession with murder—both as news and as entertainment—that prompts online sources, print, movies, and television shows to feature infamous killers.
For most of us, a fascination with murder is entirely benign. Ironically, we are drawn to murder, and especially to its most grisly and grotesque examples, as an escape from the mundane problems we face in everyday life, problems such as how to pay the bills, how to avoid being mugged, or how to get a long-awaited promotion at work. Paying the bills, avoiding a mugger, and waiting for an overdue promotion—these are all too real. By contrast, some homicides are so extraordinary that psychologically they might as well be fiction. The killers might as well be characters in a novel or a film. Because they are so unlikely, at least from the point of view of true crime buffs, they are also a form of entertainment and enjoyment. Homicides yielding large body counts, for example, a massacre in a shopping mall or at a school or in the family, may qualify as crossing the line into fantasy. But the most fascinating homicides are those involving extreme forms of sadism: crimes in which victims are tortured, raped, and dismembered. The more grotesque (and therefore removed from ordinary life) a particular killing spree is, the more likely it is to provide an escape from everyday life.
A second source of fascination with murder is not so trivial. In fact, there are many people who feel intensely vulnerable to the effects of violence, so much so that they read true crime stories and watch TV docudramas about murder not because they seek to escape psychologically but in order to learn how to avoid becoming victims of homicide (and hopefully not to learn how to avoid being caught). Going beyond their role as members of the audience for murder, some actually seek to overcome feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, and vulnerability by planning careers as criminologists, crime investigators, or forensic psychologists. They hope to learn the techniques of criminal profiling and DNA analysis. The better they understand the murdering mind and the process of criminal investigation, the more they are able to distance themselves psychologically from the killers they fear and to feel safe.
The third and final source of fascination is also the most troubling. There are some individuals—hopefully, few in number—who live vicariously through the exploits of sadistic killers. Fascinated with power but controlled by normal feelings of conscience, these individuals are psychologically incapable of murdering for pleasure, money, or protection. They can, however, learn every detail of a killer’s biography, every detail of a killer’s modus operandi, and every detail of the investigation by which a killer is brought to justice.
The most infamous and celebrated killers sometimes attract fan clubs, complete with member organizations, newsletters, and even fund-raisers. At the extreme, we occasionally hear about someone, usually a woman, a so-called killer groupie, who dates or even marries an incarcerated murderer. Among the many possible motivations for her attraction, she may regard her man as an important celebrity, a powerful figure worthy of respect and admiration. Women who are attracted to men who have committed gruesome crimes may actually have a paraphilia, called hybristophilia, a sexual attraction to really bad boys.
The public preoccupation with murder apparently extends to the news media as well, both print and electronic. In a sense, the prime-time news is more like the crime-time news, and the events that are the least common in reality appear to be featured more than the rest.
According to the Tyndall Report, the extent of crime coverage in national network news on ABC, CBS, and NBC quadrupled between 2010 and 2016, and a healthy share of it focused on homicide, including mass shootings and deadly acts of terrorism. Moreover, local news programs are especially focused on reporting about murder.
The reality of crime is quite different, however. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tallies, homicide accounts for only 1% of all violent offenses and 0.1% of all serious offenses. Furthermore, the murders that seem particularly exploited are those that involve sex, sadism, or celebrity—hardly the norm in stark reality.
The 1995 criminal trial of O. J. Simpson, who was accused of having stabbed to death his estranged wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion Ronald Goldman, provides a prime (and prime-time) example of this excess. The case contained all of the elements required to gain the attention of the nation and achieve top TV ratings—a well-liked, even heroic, celebrity football player and his beautiful wife, an interracial romance gone bad, rumors of spouse abuse, and charges of police racism. Indeed, the television coverage of the trial was so excessive that someone unfamiliar with American popular culture might have thought that O. J. Simpson was a senator or that the trial was a congressional impeachment proceeding. Not only did Court TV (later renamed truTV) televise the entire 195-day trial live, but for a period of time, regular television programming was preempted so that Americans could get their daily dose of courtroom drama. In addition, periodic rundowns of trial proceedings were regularly featured on network newscasts, morning talk shows, and prime-time news magazine shows. Television trials, while entertaining millions of people who subscribed to cable news channels, also gave them access to a nondegree education in U.S. law.
Interest in O. J. Simpson remains strong, even two decades after the jury acquitted him on the murder charges. Three television series aired in 2006–2007 delved into the O. J. case, including an eight-part documentary on ESPN, a 10-part series on FX, and an Investigation Discovery program focusing on the possibility of his innocence. In July 2017, after Simpson served only 9 years of a 33-year sentence for a 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas, the Nevada Parole Board granted him parole. All major networks interrupted their regular programming to air the hearing. Clearly, this case continues to draw attention, speculation, conspiracy theories, ratings, and pain for the Goldman and Brown families.

Selling Evil

In 1985, the National Lampoon spoofed the U.S. glorification of murderers by publishing a series of “Mass Murderer Trading Cards,” complete with photos, autographs, and statistics on “all your favorite slayers.” As a parody, the Lampoon had placed despicable multiple killers in a context generally reserved for superstars. What was meant as social satire in 1985 soon become a social reality. In 1991, a California trading card company published its first series of mass and serial killer cards, spotlighting such infamous criminals as Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy, and Charles Manson. Selling for $10 per pack (without bubble gum), it was no joke. Several other card makers soon followed suit, hoping to cash in on the celebrity of multiple murderers.
Even comic books have been used as a vehicle for celebrating the exploits of vicious killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, rather than traditional superheroes. By giving him a starring role once held by the likes of Batman and Superman, the killer is unnecessarily glorified, as in Marshall McLuhan’s famous adage, “The medium is the message.” The victims’ memory is trivialized by being placed in a comic book format. In a more respectable context, the coveted cover of People magazine has often served as a spotlight for infamous criminals. It was bad enough that Milwaukee’s confessed cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was on the cover of People multiple times, an honor usually reserved for Hollywood stars and Washington politicians, but this magazine also chose Dahmer as one of its “25 Most Intriguing People of 1991” and later placed him on its list of the “100 Most Intriguing People of the Century.”
Consider how People magazine has changed since the 1970s, when celebrities selected for the cover included First Lady Pat Nixon, Barbara Walters, Richard Burton, Joe Namath, Ralph Nader, and Mary Tyler Moore—individuals who were honored for their achievements in politics, industry, sports, and entertainment. By the late 1980s, many of the cover stories had turned negative, covering stories such as JFK and the mob, Robin Williams’s love affair with his son’s nanny, the troubled life of Christina Onassis, and the scandal behind the Tawana Brawley rape case. People’s covers also began to feature rapists, murderers, and other criminals, including preppy murderer Robert Chambers, school shooter Laurie Dann, wife killer Charles Stuart, the parricidal Menendez brothers, “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher, cult leader David Koresh, Columbine murderers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, and, of course, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Additional People magazine covers have included the JonBenĂ©t Ramsey case, the Long Island serial killer, Steven Avery, Jodi Arias, Oscar Pistorius, Scott Peterson, and Casey Anthony.
Some folks don’t find just information from their murder viewing; they find inspiration. A number of films and television shows may have inspired real killers. The Reelz channel features an entire series on copycat killers that were inspired by, or at least paralleled, the fictional murders in RoboCop, Scream, Hannibal, and other movies. Likewise, other films, including The Dark Knight, Natural Born Killers, Saw, and American Psycho, appear to have given some killers gruesome ideas. Troubled people can find messages to mimic almost anywhere they look.
Television and movies have also helped to turn our criminals into celebrities. Docudramas are often biographies of vicious criminals, many of whom are played by leading actors and actresses, for example, Mark Harmon as Theodore Bundy, Brian Dennehy as John Wayne Gacy, and Helen Hunt as Pam Smart. In fact, Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film Monster. And two forthcoming movies will star Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Leonardo DiCaprio as H. H. Holmes. Having glamorous actors cast in the roles of vicious killers unfortunately infuses these killers with glamour.
Capitalizing, and profiting, from public fascination with murder, the first ever true crime conference, CrimeCon, was held in Indianapolis in 2017. With their own Facebook page, CrimeCon encourages attendance by prodding, “You know you’re dying to go.” With 2017 registration fees ranging from $200 to $600, true crime fans were entertained with podcasters, documentary filmmakers, homicide detectives, TV personalities, mock trials, and Nancy Grace as the keynote speaker.
The glorification of serial killers has created a big-money market for almost anything that they say or do: the artwork of John Wayne Gacy, who got the death penalty for killing 33 young men and boys in Des Plaines, Illinois; the paintings of mass murderer Richard Speck, who slaughtered eight nurses in Chicago; the refrigerator in which Jeffrey Dahmer had stored his victims’ body parts; songs written or recorded by Charles Manson; the poetry of Danny Rolling, who brutally tortured, killed, and mutilated five college students in Gainesville, Florida; and the writings of Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber. The popularity of murderabilia, the collectibles of murder, has inspired a market for various third-party souvenirs and products of questionable taste: aprons, boxer shorts, and thongs with images of serial killers; mass killer T-shirts bearing quips such as “Gardening helps you hide bodies”; and action-figure toys of infamous murderers like Manson and Dahmer. Although murder-based board games like Clue have been around since the 1940s, the murder mystery game trend has seen the development of several different serial killer trivia and board games. For example, Serial Killer: The Board Game comes packaged inside a body bag, features “dead baby” markers, and instructs players to kill as many children and babies as possible before being captured by the FBI.
Son of Sam laws, named after serial killer David Berkowitz, were passed in a number of states in an attempt to prohibit murderers from profiting off royalties from books and movies, but these statutes have been struck down as violations of free speech. Similarly, various state laws designed to halt the distribution of killers’ fingernails, dirt from victims’ graves, autographed Christmas cards, art work, or clothes have been ruled unconstitutional. The U.S. Congress attempted, unsuccessfully, to stop prisoners from using the mail to send out anything that would garner them a profit.
Although some states have passed laws that prohibit payments to the killers from purchasers and allow for asset forfeiture, the murderabilia industry isn’t going away. Assuming a prisoner does not use the mail to share the items with a distributor and does not personally profit from their sale, most states allow an individual to sell items linked to heinous murder cases. The online site eBay may have stopped the sale of murderabilia, but several other websites still offer such items, and what many consider a despicable industry continues to thrive.

Homicide Law

In everyday usage, the terms murder, homicide, kill, plus a variety of more colorful synonyms such as slaughter, butcher, massacre, slay, or even slang terms like knock off, bump off, and polish off, are often used somewhat interchangeably. This practice (except for the slang) will be followed throughout most of this book for the sake of convenience, if not readability. It is important, nevertheless, to understand the distinctions among these concepts.
The term killing represents the most general notion of extinguishing life. Although there is nothing inherent in the broad concept of killing that excludes suicide or even animal abuse, our attention will be limited to homicidal acts, those specifically directed against other human beings. We will discuss suicides, but only those that are coupled with a homicide. We also will examine killers who train on animals, but only as a pathway to targeting human prey.
Not all acts of killing are illegal. Most societies authorize agents of the state—police officers and soldiers, for example—to kill under appropriate circumstances. Wartime aggression against an enemy nation as well as state-sanctioned executions of condemned prisoners are not violations of the law, although certain governmental acts of violence can be proscribed by international treaty (e.g., genocide, the attempt to exterminate a racial or ethnic group).
Criminal homicide refers to unlawful and unjustifiable actions or inactions that result in the death of other human beings. The level of homicide charged will be a function of two dimensions, mens rea and actus reus. Mens rea refers to the concept of guilty intent, and actus reus refers to the act itself (or omission of an act). Thus, with mens rea we must determine the state of mind/guilty mind and with actus reus, a guilty act. When a guilty mind concurs with a guilty act, the elements of a crime has occurred. Homicidal acts include such clear-cut misdeeds as shooting a semi-automatic rifle at a crowd of people in a shopping mall or poisoning over-the-counter cold medications. As we will see, stabbing an intruder to death during a burglary is also a homicide but may be legally justifiable (i.e., noncriminal), depending on the particular circumstances.
Failures to act (known in the law as omissions) can also result in criminal charges if such inactivity helps to precipitate a death. Omissions can be subtle yet are nonetheless illegal, such as when a landlord disregards faulty wiring that causes a fatal blaze or a parent neglects a child to the point the youngster starves to death, even if the parent had not intended this tragic outcome.
Although it may seem self-evident, a necessary condition for homicide is that the intended victim of a dangerous act or neglectful omission is indeed a living human being. Thus, shooting at a suitcase hidden underneath bedsheets to look like a sleeping person constitutes attempted murder, but shooting at someone who had just died in bed of a heart attack technically does not. That is, it is factually impossible to kill someone who isn’t where he or she is believed to be, but it is legally impossible to kill a corpse. Even though the defense of legal impossibility derives from the English common law origins of our system of jurisprudence, in recent years U.S. courts have been reluctant to recognize it as an excuse.
The often-debated question of when life begins—be it at birth or at conception—has turned into a wider issue for homicide law than just the legality of medically performed abortions. Pregnant mothers who place their unborn babies at risk by using narcotics have been prosecuted for child endangerment, as well as homicide, more specifically feticide, should the fetus fail to survive. In Alabama, a conviction for “using while pregnant” that leads to the death of a newborn can result in a sentence of 10 years to life. In a recent Indiana case, Bei Bei Shuai was charged with murder and feticide after her failed suicide attempt by rat poison resulted in the death of the baby she was carrying. Ten days after ingesting the poison, Shuai’s baby was delivered by emergency cesarean section at 33 weeks gestation and lived for only two days. This case triggered international attention and a public outcry, including concern from The Guardian news in the United Kingdom regarding the criminalization of pregnancy in the United States. Shuai’s case was the first in the history of Indiana in which a woman was prosecuted for murder for a suicide attempt while pregnant. Although originally charged with murder and feticide, in 2013 Shuai pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness and was released, having been sentenced to time served (433 days).
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 38 states have on their books laws recognizing unborn children as homicide victims, some states only recognizing the fetus if viable, and at least 23 of those states recognize the fetus at the earliest stages of pregnancy. Some states may charge the fetal death as an involuntary manslaughter. And, in 2004, by the closest of margins (one vote in the Senate), the U.S. Congress passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes unborn children as victims if injured or killed during the commission of...

Table of contents

Citation styles for The Will To Kill
APA 6 Citation
Fox, J. A., Levin, J., & Quinet, K. (2018). The Will To Kill (5th ed.). SAGE Publications. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Fox, James Alan, Jack Levin, and Kenna Quinet. (2018) 2018. The Will To Kill. 5th ed. SAGE Publications.
Harvard Citation
Fox, J. A., Levin, J. and Quinet, K. (2018) The Will To Kill. 5th edn. SAGE Publications. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Fox, James Alan, Jack Levin, and Kenna Quinet. The Will To Kill. 5th ed. SAGE Publications, 2018. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.